“Training” Day: Review for “How to Train Your Dragon”

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I don’t know how it’s possible, but in terms of quality animated filmmaking, DreamWorks is getting closer and closer to becoming the company that scares and worries Pixar, the King of the Animated Film Company.  I mean, it helps when you have a strong of successful, funny, delightful, ad star studded films (Kung Fu Panda, Shrek), but even then, you have to be good if you’re aiming that high. And so goes how to Train Your Dragon.

DreamWorks Animation follows it’s amusing and thoughtful film Kung Fu Panda with an exhilarating and action packed tale of friends, cuteness, fire, and a good old “I’m-just-misunderstood” fable. Now, I have to say, this film is not original. Not original at all, there seems to be no new spin on any of the elements either. Mostly a tale of a boy and his dragon and how cute and helpful the dragon is, the story is just as unoriginal as anyone could bother to produce to the screen in 2010. What it does have, however, is style.

Hiccup is a Viking who is overwrought with the pressure from his burly father Stoick the Vast to become just as burly and masculine and virile as he is. Purposefully, the build and frame of Hiccup is one of skinny and scrawny proportions. Think of a stick figure with a large head, and there you go. The whole point of becoming a Viking to that society, that whole island, is to kill a dragon. For years, centuries, the little island that the Vikings lived on has been terrorized by dragons. After one of their better battles, Hiccup accidentally takes down a Night Fury, one of the fastest and stealthiest of all the dragons. (Turns out, it’s also one of the cutest.)

Hiccup tracks the Night Fury he shot down and begins to fraternize with it and even train it. Teach it tricks, help it fly again, feed it. It’s just like Lassie, only not annoying. I think it’s a bit easier to show and emulate human emotions into an animated animal rather than a robot (WALL-E), but even so, the animators do very well with giving Toothless a humorous and funny set of facial expressions. Toothless, this black, lizard like dragon (this is clearly not your Asian portrayal of dragons) has a sensibility of being cute and adorable, but it can be reasonably said that it’s not so cute and adorable that the audience can’t get past that part.

What the film lacks in originality, it makes up for in brilliant visuals, snappy dialogue, and great utilization of what it had. Really, the visuals are pretty much the highlight of the film. The characters, while pleasantly round and stocky, depending on the person, don’t have much depth. That is no problem, and against the backdrop of different landscapes and movements, it’s just fine and dandy. What’s the best part? The fire is spectacular, but coming from a recovering pyromaniac, I may be a bit biased. It’s realistic and explosive, just like fire is. How many animated movies and video games get it wrong is either, they make it a bit too explosive or they don’t have the elements of the dancing flames, swaying from side to side like a sultry tango.

The flight scenes are the most exhilarating and thrilling of any film I have ever seen. Even without the 3D glasses, the movement and ferocity of how fast the characters are going will take you to a new level of excitement unmatched by almost any film ever made (I haven’t seen Avatar, so don’t judge me). The speed of the characters goes so fast, you feel caught up in the motion, which doesn’t leave you queasy, but leaves you adrenaline filled. You’d be hard put to find another flight scene or chase scene that could make you feel like that.

Jay Baruchel is the voice of Hiccup and his nasally, geeky tone helps heighten the nasally, geeky, gawky traits of Hiccup. His insecure tone of voice fits well also. His father, Stoick the Vast, is voiced by the big, brawly Gerard Butler. His thick Scottish accent plays well in the film, as each line is wonderfully exaggerated to great comic effect. They lead a very enjoyable cast, including America Ferrera and Craig Ferguson.

The film was sufficiently cute and had great visuals. It took its blatantly unoriginal plot and screenplay and made it good. Not new or particularly stylized, but it took what it had and it did great with it. The storyline was charming; the characters were cute, etc. What may seem like a rather blah film is actually a great time thanks to the great chase scenes and the adorable dragons. Again, the dragons are adorable.

Grade: B+

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